The Element of Surprise in Middle-School Football

No, this trick won’t work in the NFL, but Driscoll Middle School in Corpus Christi, Tex., pulled it off brilliantly. During a recent game, the “middle school quarterback is handed the ball at the snap in such a manner that his opponents believe the play has not begun. And the teenage player then brazenly strolls through the opposing ranks without a finger laid on him before realizing his ploy has come good.” The quarterback then takes off running all the way to the end zone.

It will probably be some time before Driscoll is able to pull off this play again. But it sure would be fun to see them try …

(HT: Christian Zeller)

Ben Sauer

If they try again, they most certainly will get the penalty they should have got for attempting this. Rumor has it that the local officials association had a long talk with the officials from this game to make sure they knew never to make this mistake again.

Tim Vaughan

Ben Sauer,

Can you please enlighten us non-experts on middle-school football rules? What should the penalty have been?


I also felt uncomfortable when I read about the play. It would be one thing if the students came up with the play themselves, ran it by their coach, and then used it on their opponents. But that's not what happened here - a grown-up came up with that play and coached his kids to execute it. I really don't see why this coach is having accolades heaped onto him because he managed to outsmart a bunch of middle-school kids.


um, JR school students learned a valauble lesson in Piaget's Constructivism.

Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team

I want to call the play: 'Strolling Down the Boulevard.'

Second Down: have a Telegram Delivery complete with Bellhop uniform. Hop on a Fedex Truck and 'Arrive' at the Endzone.

Third Down: Disguise the Ball as a Baby, put in a stroller and roll downfield for a touchdown.

Forth Down: Send a giant Cannon Ball Bomb with a lit fuse to the opposing team huddle. Then Cover your Ears!

I wonder what The Gipper would think about my playbook? Winning isn't everything...It's the ONLY THING.

Jonathan Leard

There are a few videos of similar plays around the internet right now, though a more popular variation involves walking to the sideline to switch balls (though up the gut is certainly more brazen).

The best video is the one where a kid on defense doesn't buy the ruse and flies off the line as soon as the ball is hiked, completely levelling the quarterback.

If you're goig to try a trick play, do yourself a favor and have your o-line ready for someone to be half as smart as you think you are.


Yes, it got them a touchdown, but it wasn't really the middle school players tricking each other. The coach played an integral role, not only teaching them the play, but complaining about a fake penalty. I don't think we should be impressed by his ability to trick a group of 13 year old boys. Furthermore, at this level, the focus should be at least as much on learning the game as on winning. This was certainly a failure in that department as well.


I'm not aware of the specific technical rules regarding a play like this, but I do have to question the ethics of the coach who organized the play. In my opinion, trick plays that go beyond simple, in-play deception (Statue of Liberty, etc.) are counter to the spirit of the game, especially when it's at such a junior level. This is unsportsmanlike-plain and simple-and to teach children that this is how the game of football is played calls the coach's character into question.


Nonsense to those who oppose the play. Alertness is a lesson for these kids to learn. Five years from now, they could be in the army, where someone could run a trick play on them on the battlefield. As it was, they put their minds in neutral. Doubt it will happen twice.


First off, the snap is probably not legal: Article 2, Section 23, Article 1.e (page 55):

It is not a legal snap if the ball is first moved forward or lifted.

So I would say that snap is illegal, 5 yard penalty on the offense repeat the down.

The way I have understood it, the play started with a coach saying the ball should be moved five yards up. Under that scenario, I would enforce NCAA Rule 9 Section 2 Article 3.c:

An obviously unfair act not specifically covered by the rules occurs during the game. (pg 125 of current NCAA rulebook)

While the snap may or may not have been legal, the fact that the coach initiated the action by claiming that the ball should have been moved up 5 yards to be qualifies as an obviously unfair act. Flag 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct and repeat the down, plus a little talk with the coach that if he believes the ball has been placed improperly, he should talk to the officials and not have his players move the ball.

In Texas, all High School and Middle School games are played under NCAA rules with certain exceptions (mostly pertaining to differences in clock rules). The exceptions don't apply to this play. I've referred games in Texas for 4 years now, and while it doesn't make me an expert, i know enough to know that play is patently unfair.



I can see whining parents/league officials complain about fairness. Especially since it was the offensive coaching staff that devised the ruse. But as far as I can tell this is a legal play.

The only thing questionable is that the tight end (#34) was moving slightly (he turned to the side) as the ball was snapped -- this may be legal in their league as a man-in-motion, I don't really know.

Side-snaps are legal, certainly. The snap-count can be whatever he chooses: if it's a monologue about ball-placement, so be it. There's no visible False Start going on here.

The defense forgot the most important rule for their side of the ball: once the linemen set if the offense moves at all, hit them. And keep pounding them till the whistle blows. For any all all deceitfulness that went on here, the defense screwed up.

What if the offense had lined up on one side of the ball? What about a halfback snap, would they know what to do? A drop kick? Keep going till the whistle blows, boys.



I think this was a great play, and sure it's going to suck to be the other team that got tricked, but I wouldn't go so far as calling it unsportsman like. I can imagine if I was the quarterback it would take a lot of guts to pull off.

More importantly, trick plays are a part of football, and while this one certainly is way out there on the trick side of the spectrum, and not so much on the play side, I think that's an important lesson too. You don't have to just to do the plays that most people usually do, you can do anything in the rules, and it's important to understand the limits of the rules, so you know the full spectrum of options you have.

Also, I think it's wierd that people are complaining that the coach came up with this play, and then showed the kids how to do it. Do you know what that's called? It's coaching...


Unsportsmanlike. Do we teach kids that they can value a victory obtained by such underhand methods?


From the NFHS Case Book:

Football has been and always will be a game of deception and trickery involving multiple shifts, unusual formations and creative plays. However, actions or verbiage designed to confuse the defense into believing there is problem and a snap isn't imminent is beyond the scope of sportsmanship and is illegal.


A couple of things here. First off this play has been around for like two weeks now. Freakonomics a little late to the game.

This is real simple to counter. Just tell the defense at the beginning of the season if someone is carrying the ball across the line of scrimmage then level him no matter what. It is that simple then the play will never work.

To Gordon I guess I can only use deception that you know about when I play you. Quit being so self-righteous.


What bothers me about this play is that I have a hard time accepting it as "deception"; it's more like the quarterback's actions were so bizarre, the other team was stunned into inaction. His movement--walking directly through the line of scrimmage and past the defensive line--would never happen in any dead ball scenario.


Sportsmanship is wonderful but winning is what you get paid for.

In case of doubt. cehck with one of the politicians who won due to dead people and cartoon characters voting, deliberately untraceable donations, "oh, we found a voting machine in my trunk", or the other shenanigans that have happened in, say, the last couple of elections.

Steve Nations

I think this is unsportsmanlike conduct, and if I had been the ref I would have called that penalty and brought the ball back. Deception is one thing, but deception at least should involve running a play.

My biggest concern is what the defense should have done. As a coach, you can't possibly teach your players to just up and pound somebody who's walking with the ball. If it really is a dead ball situation, a defender would be penalized and almost certainly ejected for hitting a defenseless player during a dead ball. And how is the defender to know for sure. The defender cannot err on the side of hitting a defenseless opponent.


Which team won the game?


It looks like a legal formation, no lineman moving before the snap, and a legal snap. It's poor sportsmanship but it's not a penalty.

I believe the game ended in a 6-6 tie.